6 Steps to Mindful Eating for Weight Loss and Digestion
Do you find yourself scarfing down meals while completing at least one if not many tasks at a time? As a little girl, I recall eating cereal as I mindlessly read the back of the Captain Crunch box. As an adult, eating is often combined with driving, typing, texting, talking, reading, watching television, or aimlessly daydreaming.
Mindful eating involves paying attention to the process of eating in the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment. This involves eliminating all distractions and then directing your attention to the process of eating by noticing food colors, texture, and chewing with awareness. For many, binge eating is a routine tendency or an emotional response to dealing with unpleasant feelings. Mindful eating can train the mind and body to sit in discomfort and become an observer of those feelings. It also supports digestion, which is critical to the overall wellbeing of the body, since 70% of the body’s immune system dwells in the digestive track. It takes approximately 20 minutes for the body to experience satiety or fullness, as digestion encompasses a complex series of hormonal signals between the nervous system and the gut.
A growing body of research suggests that mindful eating can lead to weight loss and healthier food choices, such as choosing to eat food in a natural rather than processed state. Researchers at Indiana State and Duke University conducted a study of mindful eating techniques to treat binge eating. The results showed a decline in depression, binging, and the need to control eating.
6 Steps to Mindful Eating
Eating mindfully can be as challenging as motivating the mind and body to engage in physical activity after sitting dormant on the sofa for years. It requires persistence and a willingness to embrace the belief that the “pain” of sitting quietly for 20 minutes is worth the gain. Half of the battle involves educating yourself about the benefits and you are doing this now!
Follow these tips to get started:
- Embrace Mindfulness – Believe mindfulness is a component to forming healthy eating habits. We generally consume 3 meals per day and committing to bringing awareness to just 1 may seem overwhelming. You must remember your motivation for making this a habit when the days are long and busy. Most days already appear limited in time.
- Set Timer - Set your phone or kitchen timer to 20 minutes to eat a normal sized meal. Start with 10 minutes and work up to 20, if needed.
- Get Centered - Sit quietly for a few minutes to center yourself as you notice the natural flow of your breath. Begin lengthening and deepening the breath so that your inhale and exhale are of equal length. I recommend counting to ten. One on the inhale, two on the exhale, three on the inhale, and so on. Return to one and start again without judgment if the mind wanders.
- Engage Senses - With your full plate take a moment to notice the color, texture, and scent of the food as if you are viewing it for the first time.
- Acknowledge Food Prep Process - Practice gratitude or say a prayer thanking those who prepared the food. Acknowledge what it took to produce the food, from the sunshine to the farmer to the trucker to the grocer and the cook.
- Slow Down – When you feel you are eating too slow, eat slower! Take small bites, chew well, and resist the urge to swallow immediately. Try eating with the opposite hand or chopsticks.
The idea for living a more mindful life seems simple enough: Return your awareness again and again without judgment to whatever is going on. While it may seem simple, it can be extremely challenging to remove the mind chatter. You WILL have thoughts, so release any expectations and be patient and kind with yourself. By practicing just a few minutes of awareness with today’s meal, you are a step ahead from where you were yesterday. It’s easy to return to multitasking and rushing through a meal feeling that your time could be efficiently spent elsewhere. Nothing, I say NOTHING, is more important than taking care of the divine vessel known as your body. By devoting just 20 minutes a meal even once per day to practicing mindfulness, you are taking optimal care of yourself. Those you love will also benefit, as you are able to take better care of their needs.
Honor your small victories and make mindfulness eating a healthy habit!
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.